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Art Movements: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Today I am taking a leaf from another earlier blog post, which featured an artist I admire, Richard Diebenkorn. He painted in an abstract expressionist style with oils, featuring the human figure and landscape. An identifying feature of his artwork was his use of bright colors and shapes in both painting subjects. This style branded his painting style and made his work instantly recognizable. I painted two copies of his paintings to accompany the blog post, of a figure and an abstracted landscape. Since last week, I have been pondering other art movements that I find inspiring to my art practice.

One of these art movements is the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. In particular, I love the color and emotion I see displayed on the faces of the portraits and figures. In a similar way to a play, they are figures on a stage, acting out various dramas. The PRB group was founded in 1848 in England by young art students and they included: Dante Gabriel Rosetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt, who studied at London’s Royal Academy of Art. (ibid, and Smith, 2013)

According to Roe, 2014, author of “The Pre-Raphaelites”, the Pre-Raphaelites were composed of a disparate group of “sculptors, painters, designers,” who were frustrated by the limiting strictures that the London Royal Academy of art imposed on art, such as an emphasis on idealization, and balance. Instead, the Pre-Raphaelites sought inspiration in the work of other artists such as Van Eyck, Memling, and Giotto. (Roe, pg. 2) According to the author, Roberta Smith, who wrote, “Blazing a Trail for Hypnotic Hyper-Realism,” some of the subjects which the PRB enjoyed painting were medieval themes such as King Arthur’s, Guinevere, and Shakespeare’s Ophelia in Hamlet, and stories from the Bible. (Smith, pg. 2)

Smith states that these artists characterized their work by emphasizing painstaking realism and “Technicolor” palettes. (ibid) In addition, Roe, states that the Pre-Raphaelites used a line, and flat perspective and bible stories. In particular, William Holman Hunt’s A Converted British Family, Millais’s Christ in the House of His Parents and Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini (1850) evoked virulent criticism from art critics, who disapproved of the highly realistic treatment of religious figures. ( Roe, pg. 2) However, according to Roberta Smith, (2013), although the Pre-Raphaelites challenged the art establishment of their times and “introduced a new painting style” it does not necessarily follow that these painters were “avant-garde.” Furthermore, Smith states that they did not make radical changes like Manet, Cezanne or Van Goh. In addition, they did not have a strong interest in painting “modern life.” (Smith, pg. 4) Instead of “embracing the people, fashions, and activities of their time, as their French contemporaries did, they escaped into fantasy.” (Smith, pg. 4)

Whatever the case may be, Smith, 2013, states that their work played an important role in influencing other important art movements to come such as “Symbolism, Art Noveau,

and modern design, in children’s literature and Photo Realism, and also contemporary art”. (Smith, pg. 4) For instance, “Tom Uttech’s dreamlike views of wilderness (on view at the Alexandre Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan), Ellen Altfest’s detailed yet painterly realism, Ron Mueck’s disturbingly lifelike sculptures, Mark Greenwold’s intrinsically twisted narratives and the equally finicky if more surreal images of Anj Smith.” (ibid).

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